Friday, March 26, 2010

Best & Worst of the Wild Times - A Decade in Review

Anna Mendietta self portrait, courtesy DM Art Center

People talk about starving artists but significant art scenes usually keep company with sustained periods of prosperity. The recently completed decade began with an all time high stock market. Ten years later those same markets had climbed back to within ten per cent of where they began. Iowa’s art scene experienced similar highs and lows.

The Story of the Decade - Des Moines’ artistic magnetism

Prior to the last decade, almost all young artists in Iowa had to choose between making a living as an artist and staying in Iowa. Most left. Artists who stayed usually needed day jobs to make ends meet. That changed during the last ten years. Sticks, the artistic furniture company created by Des Moines artist Sarah Grant, became a magnet for artists, reversing the “creativity drain” that obsessed focus groups from coast to coast. Alex Brown maintained his residence and studio in Des Moines even after making it in old New York.

A group of young artists with eastside backgrounds, signed with fledgling Moberg Gallery and soon discovered they could make a living as artists without leaving town, even for representation. Before the end of the decade, artists were moving to Des Moines and not just to work at Sticks. One of them, Zach Mannheimer, established the Des Moines Social Club, a serious theatrical company that also provided a place for all kinds of artists to hang their berets.

Other Top Stories: The Temple of the Performing Arts is saved from civic rubble lust; The Faulconer Gallery opens with generous endowment; The Pappajohn Sculpture Garden shows off a magnificent gift to the city.

Person of the Decade - TJ Moberg

Jackie Moberg says that one day in 2003 she came from work and her husband, sculptor TJ Moberg, told her to quit her job because he had purchased an art gallery. The Mobergs spent the next six years getting people to take local artists seriously. They began with all Iowans and mostly young artists. By decade’s end, they had expanded to Beverly Hills and their stable included known artists from coast to coast. Meanwhile, TJ’s career as a sculptor took a serious turn. His work moved from realistic representations of client’s visions, to unpredictable personal abstractions, as he became the most interesting public artist in the state.
Painter of the Decade - Michael Brangoccio

This painter of magical realism delineated a placeor grace and faith within a post-quantum universe of alternate realities. His investigations into the laws of physics arrested the eye and engaged the mind with a religious sense of awe.

Designers of the Decade - Kirk Blunck & Greg Wattier

I hate ties as much as anyone but these two guys shared the workload that turned East Village and Court Avenue into the most arty hoods in town. They did it with distinctively different visions too. Blunck’s minimalism suited the revival of East Village’s marvelous historic brick buildings. His café Lucca was designed to remind people that the food was the attraction.

Wattier restored other historic buildings with more flair. His Alba café is the most theatrical in town. Apples and oranges.

Gallery Exhibitions of the Decade - “Jules Kirschenbaum: A Matchless Clarity” at Anderson and Olson-Larsen, 2000

This Des Moines master anticipated the style of the YBA’s by decades. His posthumous retrospectives increased his international profile and led to museum exhibitions.

Museum Exhibition of the Decade - “Andy Goldsworthy” at the Des Moines Art Center, 2002

The great Scottish sculptor created three remarkable cairns for this show. They are now civic icons. Runner-up - Anna Mendieta at DMAC.

Architecture’s Best and Worst

Two sports arenas demonstrated a decade of great contrasts. Rob Whitehead’s (HLKB) McLeod Center retained traditional Iowa values, with a democratic aesthetics that included a single seating area, intimacy and great sight lines. Wells Fargo Arena (by ironically named Populous) shucked all that for the trappings of apartheid - valet stations, segregated seating areas, elitist entrances and tiers, etc.

Top Ten Breakthrough Artists
John Phillip Davis, Chris Vance, TJ Moberg, Frank Hansen,
Mathew J Clark, Jean Marie Salem, Larassa Kabel, Jessie Fisher, Ryan Clark and Lee Ann Conlan all came out of nowhere to mark the Iowa artscape.

Made Man of the Decade - Alex Brown

Des Moines' Alex Brown left the city behind professionally. He's represented by one of the world's top galleries - Feature, Inc. in New York City. But the painter still keeps a studio in Des Moines and even opens it up during open houses there.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

February 2010

Fire & Rain — the new media?

Photo by Bill Witt

Medium is the message. Marshall MacLuhan’s old mantra is frequently chanted these days as wireless streaming threatens just about every medium that preceded it. While newspaper and newsstand magazine sales dropped more than 9 percent this year, Meredith and Gannett continued a controlled burn of old media jobs. And with brilliant timeliness, “News & Nightmares” reminds us that there’s really nothing new under the sun. The Des Moines Art Center’s new show of wood engravings uses stunning works, by two cutting edge artists from the 19th century, to bracket the history of one short lived medium that enabled all kinds of new forms of art — including recycled art. The medium is examined from the heyday of Winslow Homer’s career as a Civil War magazine illustrator through the moral rot of Max Ernst’s lost generation between the world wars. The show’s Ernst works include an illustrated book called “A Week of Kindness, or the Seven Deadly Elements.”

This surrealist masterpiece is a novel without a plot. “Yet it’s still so compelling it has become a cult thing,” explained curator Amy Worthen, who found a rare copy of the book and persuaded the Art Center to buy it. This long lost medium still moves viewers with an exhibition that investigates the nature and substance of cruelty — from the political and physical cruelties in Homer’s Civil War to the imagined mental cruelties that fascinated the Dadaists and Surrealists of Ernst’s day. Through June 13.

Drake’s Anderson Gallery is hosting a multimedia exhibit in which medium is not only the message, it’s also the subject, the sub text and the subliminal connection to super human ecosystems. “To know the land” is also very fine art.

photo by Bill Witt

Scott Robert Hudson’s piece de resistance is a film about a fire sculpture he built near LaPorte City last autumn — eight-foot tall towers of willow, cedar and river dead fall with bison skulls enclosed. Photographing from several angles, the former U.S. Forest Service firefighter played with the hottest of all media. “Fire creates its own weather; it turns atmospheres inside out. It never behaves the same way twice,” Hudson explained.

Also in this show: Hudson’s “Western Juniper Lava Beds” shows an intricate attention to detail rarely seen in watercolors anywhere; Painted sculptures of 20 bison skulls, plus a shadow dancing,
hanging sculpture of a painted horse’s head all pay homage to the war paints of the Iowa Indian chief White Cloud, as depicted by George Catlin;

A sculpture of shot gun shells, Acoma pottery shards and beaver skulls reflect on the nature of war; Wood carvings and bobcat brush drawings reveal an artist tuned in to both the media and methods of ancient artisans working the same territory. Through Feb. 28.

At the Des Moines Botanical Center, photojournalist John Gaps III uses his medium to examine the nature of water. Abstractions from his lens play with H2O droplets in various stages of evaporation where each gaseous bubble reflects full prism globes. Different shots catch flood water on asphalt, water on windshields, floating lilies, melting ice on sheet metal, boat fuel frozen under early river ice, crepuscular light reflected off flood water, and a hail damaged pickup truck simulating Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Through March 31.

Des Moines writer John Domini has long been paying dues in myriad forms of the literary medium. Now he’s collecting some residuals. Last year Domini won a Major Artist Grant from Iowa Arts Council and the runner-up prize for Italy’s Domenico Rea Award, for his novel “Earthquake I.D.” Last month his new novel “Tomb on the Periphery” was selected one of the top nine international books by the London Book Festival in England. “Tomb” was then contracted for translation, a Domini short story was included in the prestigious anthology “Paraspheres 2,” one of his essays in the anthology “Papa Ph.D.,” and two of his poems for “Poetic Voices without Borders,” which will be published next month.